I'm rewatching every episode of the Man from UNCLE series from start to finish. This review may contain spoilers.
Like the previous episode, this one's is a little light on plot. It's another strong premise, though. An evil local ruler in a province of India is stealing supplies from a humanitarian group that's trying to assist farmers in the region. Specifically, he's using the stolen insecticide to render the highlands useless, forcing the population to come to him to beg for work in his ruby mines, where he underpays and abuses them. UNCLE decides to investigate on the behalf of the World Congress for Underdeveloped Nations.
They enlist Suzanne de Serre (Jill Ireland) for help. I've seen Jill Ireland in a Star Trek episode and a few Charles Bronson movies, and she gives a good performance here. She even gets to rescue the UNCLE agents, for a change, and her very pragmatic battle tactics on the pier made me laugh out loud.
There are good moments in this episode. Ilya makes several friends among the Indian workers, and it's genuinely sad when a few of the inevitably turn up murdered.
And the evil Prince Panat (Lee Bergere) is properly heartless. He earnestly entreats Suzanne to stop worrying so much about the poor, and to consider the "plight of the wealthy." I don't think he's being sarcastic. He's privileged royalty who sees the "lower classes" as lesser human beings, and really does believe that he's the victim. I know in 2022 it's hard to identify with such opulent callousness, but back in the 60s (and definitely not today) that sort of thing did indeed exist. I'm being sarcastic, of course. This is one of those characters who works just as well as he did then as he does now. Selfish and cruel, Prince Panat is the spoilt rich right-wing politician of today, caring only for industry and wealth, while blaming the crudeness and "laziness" of the "racially inferiour".
All in all, I found the episode's execution to be a little drab. The plot is there, but most of it just feels like our heroes roaming through the jungle, emerging for some banter with the baddies, and then roaming the jungle again.
At one point the UNCLE agents even end up as slave workers in the ruby mine. That's fine. TV shows often put heroes into predicaments that you know they'll escape. But this one happens so late into the story that it feels like a formality more than an actual plot point.
In the end, all the baddies get what's coming to them. There's a really cool explosion when Solo shoots the caustic insecticide stuff from afar. Jill Ireland steps on the fingers of the prince and his henchman as they struggle to get back onto the pier that she's just knocked them off of. Everything works out.
The real star of this episode is the music. The theme, of course, is by Jerry Goldsmith, but this episode's score is credited to Robert Drasnin. I guess it's thanks to him, then, that from 44:01 to 45:12 (actually to 45:24, but there's a smooth reset to stretch it out a little) there's a great jazzy tune you get to enjoy while secret agents sneak around the mine. That's a minute of smooth 60s spy jazz, and it's great. I wish all episodes would do that.
The ending of the episode is a little strange. Suzanne is in the UNCLE offices wrapping up the case when she announces that she's going back to India, this time as a dentist. Solo laughs and says that he thought she was a botanist and chemist, and she explains that dentistry also runs in the family. I think the implication is that she's not really a humanitarian, but just another spoiled rich person on holiday under the guise of charity work. I don't know why this is implied, though. She seemed genuine to me throughout the episode. She was opposed to tiger hunting, opposed to the cruel treatment of the common folk of the region, she really was importing supplies for the local farmers to improve their yield. She consistently resisted the prince's romantic advances, and only tolerated him because without him she wouldn't have permission to perform her charity work. Why she suddenly was made out to be a charlatan makes no sense to me, unless the idea is maybe that women couldn't do actual charity work? But even that makes no sense, because she demonstrably was doing actual charity work. We saw the supplies ourselves.
The whole episode is just a little bit lackadaisical. It's not a hot mess, but it's not spectacular and it feels like maybe it could have used one final re-write to get it all sorted out.
Lead image by Anthony DELANOIX under the terms of the Unsplash License. Modified by Seth in Inkscape.